Carrie Preston is a multi-talented actress/director/producer who has starred in some unforgettable films such as Doubt and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. She has also appeared in the high-powered television shows Lost, The Good Wife and Desperate Housewives. Currently, she stars as waitress Arlene Fowler on HBOâ€™s hottest show, True Blood.
What drew you to the character of Arlene?
I am always drawn to strong women characters, and Arlene is no exception. I grew up in the south, so I know women like Arlene. I’m not narrow minded like Arlene, but we have the same work ethic. We both deeply care about what we do for a living. I’m also drawn to playing a character that has a balance between humor and drama. This is a dream for an actor.
Can you tell our audience what they can expect for her this season?
Arlene seems to always find herself in a sticky situation. Just when she thinks she’s finally going to get a chance to take a breath, something else rears it’s scary head. She is face to face this season with something that hasn’t yet been seen on the show, and it definitely gives everyone involved a fright.
Who inspires you as an actress?
I’m always drawn to actors who have been around for a while, who have learned in the trenches of theater, film and television. I really look up to Mary McDonnell. She is someone who achieved critical mass with Dances with Wolves back in 1990, but she has steadily worked her whole career. I learn so much watching her do a scene and then try to imagine the words on the page. She does things with her material that are so singular and specific that they literally lift the words off the page and give them a unique and thrilling life.
What draws you to a particular part?
I have had the great fortune of being able to play a wide variety of characters, both on screen and on stage. Part of our job as actors is to find a way to relate to all of them, even if we don’t personally agree with their behaviors. If I read a role and can see a way into it, even if it’s just a glimpse into it, then I generally want to play it.
How do you prepare for difficult, wrenching scenes?
It’s different for every role and every situation. I always start with what the writers give me. I find a way to personalize those words. Sometimes that’s by using my imagination and tapping into my own empathy. Sometimes it’s by relating it to a certain personal situation. But it’s always about showing up and breathing and being present.
I know that you have your own production company, Daisy 3 Pictures. How did the idea for the company come about? What do you look for in a script that excites you enough to want to make the film?
I started the company in 2004 with one of my classmates from Juilliard, James Vasquez, and his partner Mark Holmes. We wanted to create a company that makes “gay films that you can take your Mother to and women’s films with a ‘broad’ appeal”. And that’s exactly what we have done. Our first two features were written by James Vasquez. I directed the first one, 29th and Gay, a film about a guy looking for his place in the world and for another guy to share it with. James directed the other film, which I produced and starred in. It’s called Ready? OK!, about a little boy who wants to be a cheerleader and how his mother deals with the idea that he may grow up to be gay. I directed the third film, which was was written by Kellie Overbey. It’s called That’s What She Said and stars Anne Heche, Marcia DeBonis and Alia Shawkat. It takes the chick flick genre, mashes it with the balls to the wall silliness of a good bromance and let’s the girls come out on top!
You have worked with so many amazing people already. Is there anyone you have not worked with yet that you would like to?
I would love to work with Edie Falco. I really admire her and am so impressed with how she was able to take on Nurse Jackie and somehow make everyone forget Carmella Soprano.
Is there a particular character or character type that you have not played, but would love to try?
I usually play the character roles, so I would love to play a romantic lead, either in a contemporary or period piece.
How do you stay grounded?
I am one of those people who rarely slows down, and that can be stressful. To stay grounded, I do a lot of reading and studying of Buddhist practices of mindfulness and compassion. When it feels like things are too hectic in any given moment, I try to pause, breathe and stay open to whatever experience is going on inside of me and to also have compassion for those around me. This helps in centering. I recommend any books, audiobooks, podcasts by Pema Chodron or Tara Brach.
Do you have any advice for actors new on the scene?
Once youâ€™re out in the world, the main thing you have to tackle is auditioning. This is the place where all of your baggage comes up. If youâ€™re a people pleaser, that gets amplified. If youâ€™re self destructive, you tend to want to sabotage yourself. If youâ€™re insecure, thatâ€™s exacerbated. Each situation is different, based on where you are coming from and what the demands of the material are. And learning what works for you is an ever-changing process. The key is to find a way to be present and open to the world around you even when your nerves are trying to get the better of you. I highly recommend looking at my friend Jack Plotnick’s website. He has given me some of the best and most practical advice about acting and auditioning I have ever gotten: http://www.jackplotnick.com/